UK insurer stops cover on ship going to Syria

A British company said Tuesday it had cancelled insurance for a Russian-operated ship it said was carrying munitions to Syria — a shipment the British government says included refurbished military helicopters.

U.K.-based insurer Standard Club said in a statement that it had been made aware that a Russian ship, MV Alaed — currently off the Scottish coast — was carrying munitions destined for Syria, in clear breach of its rules.

"We consequently informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage," it said in a statement.

Britain has joined the United States and other countries in pressing Russia to halt arms shipments to President Bashar Assad's regime, which has been fighting to put down a sustained uprising against his rule.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed it was aware that a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters was heading to Syria. It said Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that all defense shipments to Syria must stop.

"We are working closely with international partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian regime's ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through assistance from other countries," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

The vessel's Russian operator, Femco, refused to comment Tuesday.

But maritime experts said the cancellation of the ship's insurance would not necessarily affect its journey.

"Normally it's difficult to trade at a port without insurance cover, but in this case, we are seeing a Russian ship going to a sanctioned country (Syria) that is going to let it in," said James Baker, news editor at maritime newsletter Lloyd's List.

Baker said he believed the ship could reach Syria without having to stop somewhere to refuel.

An article on the website Maritime Bulletin, run by Russian maritime expert Mikhail Voytenko, said revoking the insurance would have little impact, since Russia does not support EU sanctions against weapons shipments to Syria.

The BBC reported Tuesday that the ship was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Outer Hebrides off the northwest coast of Scotland. The Foreign Office and Standard Club refused to give details of its location.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a harsh reprimand of Russia last week, when she said that Moscow "dramatically" escalated the crisis in Syria by sending attack helicopters there. The State Department acknowledged later the helicopters she accused Moscow of sending were actually refurbished ones already owned by the Assad regime, but Russia was clearly annoyed, and the spat further fueled tensions between the two countries over Syria.

It was not immediately clear whether the helicopters aboard the Alaed were the ones to which Clinton had been referring.


Associated Press writers Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.